Youth volunteers bring a sense of wonder to Rock Creek

Watching the students’ ecstatic faces as they raced toward a muddy patch of snow on the Tamarack Bench trail, you might have thought this was the highlight of their summer. But the chance to lob pine-needled-filled snowballs at their counselors was just one of many bright moments during a weekend of trail stewardship with the youth adventure programs Rustic Pathways and Road Less Traveled. One student from New York City had never seen the stars before they appeared above her campsite on Crowley Lake. Several others hiked above 10,000 feet for the first time in their lives. For some, finding a robin’s nest with four blue eggs was just as exciting as the Fourth of July fireworks.

Bela dealing with a pesky dead aspen. Photo by Julia Runcie.

The two groups cleared brush from over three miles of trails in Rock Creek Canyon, picked up trash around Rock Creek Lake, and repaired waterbars in Little Lakes Valley. While we worked, they treated us to renditions of every single song from the musical Hamilton. In return, we taught them tool safety, wilderness etiquette, and ID tricks for wild onions and lodgepole pines.

 Sophia learns handsaw safety. Photo by Julia Runcie.

My favorite moment came when we were brushing the trail from Rock Creek Lake down to the East Fork day parking. We’d been working for several hours and the students were getting tired and distracted by the magnificent frothy torrent of the creek. After a lesson in how to use a handsaw properly, one student felled a small aspen that was blocking the trail and persuaded two of her peers to help her carry it over to the water. A safe distance back from the bank, they heaved the tree into the creek to a spontaneous outburst of cheering and clapping from their peers. Rejuvenated, the crew got back to work with a new goal: every clipped branch had to end up in the creek, and the whole group would watch in delight as it spun and danced downstream.

Photo by Ben Wickham.